There were a lot of lessons from the fall election campaign whose results only recently became completely final, including these: President Trump has no clout beyond his vocal base, women voters can swing control of one or both houses of Congress, unpopular taxes can survive even if they were enacted on just a narrow vote.
But one lesson that many Californians may have missed is that anti-vaccination advocates who believe disease-preventing inoculations can sometime cause autism and other ills will not go away soon. These folks would rather subject millions of other people to possible harm from once-feared scourges like measles, mumps, rubella, polio and whooping cough than give up the freedom to expose their own children to those diseases.
They also find new ways to circumvent rules set up to protect the general populace and will go after any politician who’s interfered with their former right to “personal exemptions.”
The persistence produced one of the fall’s least-reported but still interesting campaigns, a state Senate race in Sacramento. Running for reelection was Democrat Richard Pan, the state Legislature’s only pediatrician and the author of California’s 2015 law that ended personal exemptions.
This law stopped parents’ right to claim even without proof that their religious beliefs forbade them from getting their school-age children vaccinated.
After it passed, the vaccination rate among California public school kindergarteners rose from 90.4 percent in the 2014-15 school year to 95.1 percent in 2017-18. As a result, far fewer children are being exposed to measles than before, saving both lives and money. Also, parents numbering at least in the hundreds have been forced unwillingly to get their kids vaccinated so they could register to attend classes.
But other anti-vax parents found a way around the new rules, taking advantage of the remaining right to a medical exemption if a physician writes that a child could be harmed by a vaccine.
The peer-reviewed medical journal “Pediatrics” reported in November that one California doctor was getting $300 each for signing medical exemptions from vaccinations for measles, polio, diptheria, chicken pox and other diseases. The journal said a nurse practitioner also had written exemptions, when only physicians can legally do so. And it found other doctors who already issue medical marijuana recommendations for pot dispensaries have added vaccination exemptions to their repertoire.
Overall, medical exemptions have tripled since 2015, rising as high as 20 percent of kids registering in a few schools. Doctors say that figure demonstrates at least some medical exemptions are “inappropriate,” polite language for phony.
Into that climate came independent state Senate candidate Eric Frame to oppose Pan, who had no opposition from either major political party.
Frame got 13 percent of the primary election vote and 31 percent of fall runoff votes, saying “It’s a fact that children have adverse reactions” to vaccines. Trouble is, that’s not a known fact: Widely-reported “studies” making that claim have been thoroughly debunked, many of their authors forced to recant and apologize. Major health and science organizations unanimously say vaccines may rarely have small side effects, but no major ones like the claimed cases of autism.
Responded Pan to Frame’s campaign claims, “Spreading misinformation about vaccines is dangerous. We’ve seen a fall in vaccination rates when people spread misinformation…and we’ve seen a return of (some) preventable diseases.”
This doesn’t deter the anti-vaxxers, one of whose chief spokesmen is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who reacted during the campaign to Pan’s comment by charging Pan “would completely abolish free speech online in California…”
Kennedy and other anti-vaxxers can’t factually argue with Pan’s statement in “Pediatrics” that “Vaccines are (more than) 1,000 times safer than the diseases they prevent…(even though) vaccine risks may be too high for a few people, for example, those with a known severe allergy to a vaccine.”
The upshot is that anti-vaxxers can only gain traction when parents become credulous enough to believe unproven claims, claims that don’t become valid just because some people deeply believe them.
But there is no sign that any law will diminish their beliefs or their determination to evade vaccination requirements.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.